Congress voted yesterday to slap sanctions on Iran’s energy, shipping and financial industries, convinced that increasing the economic pressure on Tehran will derail its suspected nuclear weapons programme.

The House overwhelmingly passed the Bill 421-6 and a short time later, the Senate approved it by voice vote. The measure now heads to President Barack Obama for his expected signature.

The legislation builds on the current penalties directed at financial institutions that do business with Iran’s central bank and adds sanctions to undermine Tehran’s oil income.

“Ultimately, we will all be judged by a simple question: Did we stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapons capability?” said Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, during the House debate. “If the answer is no, if we fail, then nothing else matters. If we fail, it would be of no comfort to the American people, whose security and future would be put in danger. If we fail, it would be of no comfort to our ally Israel, whose very existence would be put in danger.”

Ros-Lehtinen, Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, negotiated the compromise Bill.

Johnson called attention to the “sputtering” negotiations between the West and Iran over its uranium enrichment.

“Economic sanctions are not an end: They are a means to an end,” Johnson said. “That end is to apply enough pressure to secure agreement from Iran’s leaders to fully, completely and verifiably abandon their illicit nuclear activities.”

The legislation would impose sanctions on anyone who mines uranium with Iran; sells, leases or provides oil tankers to Tehran; or provides insurance to the National Iranian Tanker Co, the state—run shipping line. The Bill seeks to undermine Iran’s ability to repatriate revenue from the sale of crude oil.

The Bill would penalise anyone who works in Iran’s petroleum, petrochemical or natural gas sector, or helps Tehran’s oil and gas industry by providing goods, services, technology or infrastructure.

“Our current sanctions, and a recent European Union ban on purchasing Iranian oil, have already had an impact,” said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “In spite of the rhetoric coming out of Iran, the regime is clearly feeling the heat. Oil exports are down by 50 per cent, and the Iranian currency has lost nearly 40 per cent of its value.”

Separately this week, President Barack Obama announced new penalties on Tehran’s energy sector and on foreign banks in China and Iraq that the US says help the Islamic republic evade international penalties.

(This article was published on August 3, 2012)
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